These days, the first names in men's tennis are Roger and Rafa, two guys who boast nearly as many endorsements as they do titles. Federer and Nadal have owned the court -- and the public eye -- for years. But shortly before they took over the tennis scene, there were Andre, Pete and Jim -- a trio of American men who dominated the Grand Slam events. Beginning in September, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Jim Courier, along with four other former greats, will be back on the court in a reformatted Champions Series.
The season will last five weeks, with four players pairing off in one-set semifinal matches at each of the 12 tournaments. They'll play in front of fans in Fort Lauderdale, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Boston, Phoenix, Seattle, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, St. Louis and Buffalo. The players with the most points after the five-week tour will meet for the Champions Series title in an eight-game pro-set match. They'll get more than just a good workout and a chance to thrill their fans -- the top three finishers will split a cool $1 million.
Joining the headliners are fellow Americans John McEnroe and Michael Chang, plus Swedes Mats Wilander and Bjorn Borg. The seven players won a combined 52 Grand Slam singles titles during their ATP careers; now they'll fight to see who has remained the sharpest. Chang and Sampras are the youngest of the bunch at 39, while Borg is the oldest at 54. Watching elder statesmen like Borg and McEnroe, 52, race around the court should serve as a reminder that tennis is a sport for all ages.
For those of us old enough to remember Ivan Lendl's big serve and Boris Becker's cherry locks (but young enough to have had posters of dreamboats Stefan Edberg and Aussie Patrick Rafter on our walls), the thought of seeing stars from the '90s back on the court makes us positively giddy. Today's men might have better tans, bigger muscles and brighter T's (lookin' at you, Rafa), but the flowing hair, short-shorts and headbands of the '80s were made cool on the courts long before Luke Wilson donned them for "The Royal Tenenbaums."
The only way news of the new Champions Series could get better for tennis geeks like me is if these veterans were forced to replicate the sartorial splendor of their heydays. Just imagine McEnroe rocking that bright-red headband, Courier in a pair of shorts that would make Daisy Duke blush and Andre Agassi pulling a Bret Michaels -- masking his bald head by anchoring a flowing wig with a cleverly placed bandana. Sampras -- well, Pete never was one for flashy fashions -- but as long as those bold eyebrows are still around, he'll be making a statement.
While there are certainly thrills to be had watching Federer and Nadal do battle, there's something nostalgic and wonderful about remembering the peak of men's tennis in America. When the Champions Series starts, there will be no U.S. men in the world Top 10 -- but fans can watch a few guys who passed around the No. 1 ranking for years. Maybe some kid in the crowd will be inspired to start a new American (tennis) Revolution.